January 25, 2010

Remembering ... Skip Away

I always liked Skip Away. He began his career at my old stomping grounds, running his first three races at Monmouth Park in the Summer of 1995. Trained by one of my favorite trainers, Sonny Hine, it was natural for me to gravitate towards the powerful gray. Skip Away was also a son of Skip Trial, whom I had been a fan of ten years earlier, when he upset Spend a Buck in the Haskell Invitational. Racing in the name of the trainer’s wife Carolyn, Skip Away improved with every race as a juvenile and won his third start by more than 12 lengths. It was his first try around two turns and prompted his connections to never run him again in a sprint race. I watched with interest as he went to New York and lost by a nose and a neck in the prestigious Cowdin and Remsen Stakes. Those would be his final starts at two as he finished his opening season with one win in six starts. With a little luck, his record could have been much better and I was eager to see what this Jersey horse could do the following Spring.

Things got off to a messy start for Skippy at three, as he bled in his first race back and was eased. One month later, and now running with Lasix, he earned his second career win in his eighth career start with a 12 length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. From there on, Skip Away would make 30 more starts, every one of them was a major stakes race. A third place finish in the Florida Derby to the ultra talented Unbridled’s Song proceeded a trip to Kentucky. I drove down to Keeneland to support my old New Jersey friend and what happened that day forever changed my mind about Skip Away. The Blue Grass had a wet fast track and finally everything went Skippy’s way. He demolished a strong field and broke the stakes record for nine furlongs in the important race. Going in, I saw him as a nice horse that I would follow and hopefully see win some stakes. Leaving Keeneland that day, I thought I saw the birth of something very special. This strong gray horse with bright red and yellow silks, red shadow roll, and red and yellow blinkers was fun to watch…and now I knew he was really good.

The Triple Crown was disappointing, but did little to discourage my faith in him. As many horses often do in the Derby, Skip Away, for whatever reason ran his poorest race. From his outside post position he failed to threaten and backed out to finish 12th of 19. Many of the Derby horses did not come back in the Preakness, and I expected him to win. Skip Away ran well, but Louis Quatorze was a quality speed horse who got out on the lead and he was not comimg back. Skippy chased him around the track to finish second. In the third leg, he ran well in the Belmont, but could not hold off the late charge of Editor’s Note, finishing second again. For what it’s worth, Skip Away was one of only two horses I ever picked in all three Classics without winning any of them. Alydar was the other. After the grueling Triple Crown, I expected a rest for my favorite horse.

I was surprised to see him running two weeks later in the Ohio Derby. Skippy was now on his way to earning his title as an Iron Horse. He won the Ohio race easily and followed with a win back at his home track in the Haskell. A hard fought loss, when steadied on the rail in the Travers was next and then he was shipped north to easily win the Molson Million. It would be no rest for the weary, as Hine would enter Skippy for his toughest test yet in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. There he would face Cigar who was closing in on his second consecutive Horse of the Year title. The bettors loved Cigar to the tune of 1-5, while Skip Away, despite his excellent season, was nearly 6-1. I must admit, while very hopeful, I was not confident that my favorite could knock off Cigar. He did. Cigar had every chance to roll by him late, but Skip Away determinedly held off the champion. Overjoyed, I knew this would mean a championship for Skippy. He danced every dance and won half of his 12 starts against the toughest of competition. Skip Away was a most deserving three-year-old champ.



As a four-year-old Skip Away became rivals with very talented and much more lightly raced handicap stars, Formal Gold and Will’s Way. It produced some excellent match-ups and Skip Away did win a couple of them in the Mass Cap and Suburban, but he was more often beaten. Hine continued to enter him in every big handicap race out there and Skippy responded with solid efforts every time, resulting in more seconds and thirds than wins. Things would change in the Fall. Formal Gold, who was the leader of the division, was injured and retired, and Skippy, as he had done the previous year, finished with a bang. He overpowered the fields in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in California, proving that he was the best horse at the classic American distance of ten furlongs on either coast. It was enough for Skippy to win a second Eclipse as the top older male, but he was narrowly denied the Horse-of-the-Year award to the undefeated juvenile, Favorite Trick. It was hard to knock the season of the two-year-old, but I was disappointed and so was Hine.

Finally at five, Skippy took it to a whole new level. Knowing that he had the best horse in the country, Hine told the world where Skip Away would run that year and he welcomed anyone to come and try to beat him. It proved futile for the competition, as Skippy built on his fabulous finish to 1997. In a marvelous display of class and durability, Skip Away won the Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Pimlico Special, Mass Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Iselin Handicap, and Woodward to begin his season. That brought his streak to nine straight wins in big races from one corner of the country to the other, most of them in devastating style. He was a powerhouse in every possible sense of the word. Skip Away was not only an iron horse, he was a great horse. Finally succumbing to his taxing schedule, or possibly to tracks he did not care for, Skippy was well beaten in his final two starts, the Jockey Club and the BC Classic. It did not matter, the Florida bred out of the Diplomat Way mare, Ignot Way, had more than proved himself on countless occasions. Skip Away was named Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year for 1998.

Skip Away had done his sire, Skip Trial, two better, as both fine horses ran 38 times in their career, with Skippy winning 18 to his dad’s 16. He of course did it on a bigger stage, as Sonny Hine raced him in all the big races. His career earnings totaled nearly ten million dollars and he entered racing’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Unfortunately his likeable trainer, Sonny Hine passed away at the age of 69 in 2000, after a three-year battle with cancer. For me, Skip Away was a favorite, because I had followed him from the very beginning. It was a great run for fans of Skip Away that lasted longer, with more to cheer about than just about any horse I have seen. He began stud duty in 1999 and stands today at Hopewell Farm in Midway, Kentucky. As a stallion, he has been useful, but has produced nothing near himself. Perhaps it was not the talent that made Skippy such a wonderful horse. Perhaps it was something deep inside that made him better than the rest. I remember you Skip Away.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Skippy has always been a special favorite of mine! I will never forget the first time I saw him in person...what a day! Thanks for remembering him, Brian!

Diane

LDP said...

An Iron horse he was, and what amazes me is that he was still able to perform so well against the to, even when he was still not at his best. When he finally reached his peak he was devestating. He was a great horse.

Kate said...

I was a Silver Charm fan... but I respect Skippy. Amazing animal.

tjreyn01 said...

You definitely have a way with words Brian. Great job as usual. I always felt that Skip Away didn't get his due respect from a lot of people, but how can you argue with 30 straight major stakes starts right? To me he is an all time great who danced every dance, truly a great iron horse. I hope to visit him one day soon at Hopewell and thank him for the enjoyment he gave me while running his heart out.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan! He is not a "warm & fuzzy" type of horse - rather aloof & bonded only to a few people. He is who he is...but, boy could he run! He was very exciting to watch.

ja.raymond said...

Thats a name I havent heard in a few yrs; I'd forgotten how good he was!!
Thanx for the reminder, Brian! Really good write, as usual :)

Anonymous said...

great piece zipster,great horse/subject you could not have gone wrong when covering skippy's career....this horse did everything that was asked of him and then some;i made some nice score with skippy....fell in love with him the very first time i saw him just totally won me over...knew right then and there that he was something special and over the years he payed off handsomely....i can remember the day he lit cigar...we we partying on the thursday before the race and the crew was counting down the days to raceday as we were more than cofident that we had cigar all lit up as i remembered we had a box of cohibas smoking and joking as to how we would defeat the big cigar even counting our money,this was thursday...we thought 3-1 was a great price only to find out that it was so nice we got twice as much..we made a pretty big score on that race...to tell the truth i owe this horse and sonny a hell of a lot...so i will take this oppurtunity to thank sonny and skippy publicly for a fantastic training job and sort of confidence you only place in a lifelong friend...long live sonny and skippy is not done yet.....cant help but remember a familiar line.."you take out what you put in" that essentially was the story of sonny and skippy and did he reward us all......the grey machine as i often referred to him left a huge dent in the annals of north american racing.....

Brian Zipse said...

Thank you everyone, it was a joy to write about such an admirable horse.

gib. said...

I was on the rail the day that he won the Ohio Derby - Thistledown's greatest hour.

If you have the records, would please see if Skip Trial ran in the Ohio Derby?

My memory is fading, but I'm thinking that I saw his daddy run also.